31 May

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of the official start of summer and beach and boating trips, BLeeveBlog has chosen to run the following regularly scheduled copy from MarineMax’s online boating community.]

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking took place last month, but chilling echoes of the cruise liner tragedy flooded back into public consciousness in January when the Costa Concordia partially sank off the coast of Italy and 32 people died.

While the 4,200-passenger cruise ship is obviously much different from recreational watercraft, it’s important to heed the lessons from the catastrophe and revisit boating safety issues as summer begins.

The Costa Concordia ran aground at Giglio Island off the west coast of Italy on January 14, 2012.

“It’s sad that anyone lost their lives, but fortunately the vast majority of people made it out safely and part of the reason is that they had time,” said Brian Rehwinkel, the coordinator of boating safety education outreach for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “One of the challenges with recreational boating is that you’re talking about smaller vessels. Preparation can be even more critical on a small boat, because when things go wrong you don’t have time. You’re in the water — boom — and if you’re not prepared you get into trouble very quickly. You’re either ready or you’re not.”

Offering a simple message in this detail-deluged world, the FFWCC emphasizes three basic boating safety practices: maintaining operator attention, developing good life-jacket habits and avoiding operator impairment. Rehwinkel encourages boaters to use the new modern safety tools on the market, such as personal locator beacons and cut-off switches that activate when a person is separated from the boat by a certain distance.

“Using a smart phone, you can set your thermostat from China,” he said. “Why not take advantage of technology on boats to make you safer?”

Perhaps the biggest example of technology bringing boating safety and convenience closer together is the inflatable life jacket. Ones with carbon dioxide cartridges come with manual pull-tabs, and hydrostatic models inflate automatically when placed under water.

“Advances in life jackets have made them less bulky and more user-friendly than old-style life jackets,” said Gloria Sandoval, public information officer for California’s Department of Boating and Waterways. “These inflatable life jackets are easy to wear, comfortable and cool, but not intended for children under 16 or non-swimmers.”

Sandoval cited a 2011 DBW study that found the number of California boaters who say they never wear a life jacket has dropped from 35% to 27% in the past five years. However, one third of state boaters said they had taken a safety course in the past, down from 42% in 2007. California is currently running a “Heroes Wear Life Jackets“ multimedia campaign, and the Sunshine State is raising similar awareness with its “Wear It, Florida” program.

On inland and coastal waters where cell coverage is available, boaters can use marine safety, weather and navigation applications on their smart phones. In addition to sending information, some apps can receive distress calls for tow services, added Sandoval. While these tools provide useful boating safety information, they should not replace primary navigation systems. If you are more than a day-tripper, make sure you are up to speed on the benefits and requirements of night-vision technology and the Automatic Identification System.

Two separate California yacht accidents in April, which claimed the lives of nine sailors, are among the freshest reminders of the importance of boating safety.

“I would feel terrible if you get out on the water and you’re always worried about something bad happening, but if we’re prepared going out it makes the time on the water that much more enjoyable,” Rehwinkel said.


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